Egyptian minister fails in UNESCO bid

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PARIS (JTA) -- A Bulgarian diplomat defeated a controversial Egyptian minister in a close election to head a U.N. agency.

Irina Gueorguieva Bokova, 57, edged Farouk Hosny, 31-27, in a fifth and final vote for general director by UNESCO executive board members at the Paris-based organization on Tuesday night. The previous evening, the candidates were tied with 29 votes each, forcing a new election.

Hosny initially was the favorite and backed by the French government, but as the election neared he spurred controversy in the Jewish community and elsewhere for his views on Israel and Judaism.

Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel and Holocaust survivor and feminist Simone Veil were among Hosny’s critics in recent weeks, citing the minister’s comments last year in which he claimed that he would personally burn any book in Hebrew criticizing Islam if he were to find one in Egypt's Alexandria library.

Other human rights associations in France worried that Egypt has a history of censoring artists, whereas one of UNESCO’s major goals is to ensure freedom of speech. Hosny has been Egypt’s culture minister for more than 20 years.

Hosny, an artist who has exhibited work internationally, has vehemently denied that he is anti-Semitic or anti-Israel in recent French reports. In an interview with France 24 television on Sept. 16, he said he restored dozens of synagogues in Egypt and asked, “So if I was anti-Semitic, why would I (do that)?” continues here

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